lady pope


Lust, violence, feuds, corruption, intrigue and romance – all the ingredients of any respectable blockbuster jostle for attention in a new film portraying the rags-to-riches story of a destitute young woman who rises to the very highest echelons of power and glory. But this heroine is no ordinary tycoon or gold-digger. She’s the Pope. Die Päpstin tells the story of a young woman from a poor clerical family who disguises herself as a man, pursues her studies in a monastery and ends up in Rome where she’s finally elected Pope. Only when she gives birth in the street while in a procession in full papal regalia is her true identity revealed. So far, the film has only been shown in Germany, where it was made, and in Italy where this summer it reached the top ten, just behind Robin Hood and Sex and the City 2.

more from Sally Feldman at Eurozine here.

wordsworth v stevens


Here are two well-known descriptions of what a poem is, and does, one by Wordsworth, one by Stevens: type a: Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. type b: The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully. These two assertions, though not opposed, place distinctly different emphases on the function of poetry. The first description, Wordsworth’s, suggests that poetry is a means of gaining perspective on primary experience: powerful emotions can be gathered, then dynamically relived, translated, and digested in the controlled laboratory of the poem—by proxy, such a poem also constructs perspective for the reader. In contrast, Stevens’s description implies that the poem and the reader engage in a sort of muscular struggle with each other—that struggle is how they become intimate, how they really “know” each other. Stevens suggests that a good poem, as part of its process, resists, twists, and enmeshes the reader (and perhaps the poet as well), an engagement in which perspective is challenged, and by no means guaranteed.

more from Tony Hoagland at Poetry here.

Never Trust a Laura Newman Vertical


Never trust a Laura Newman vertical. It might be the edge of a house, the tilt of a glass plane, or a door handle; it might indicate a painting within a painting, or a skeletal tree trunk that grew in from somewhere, and, oh, by the way, it also doubles as the cord of a wrecking ball and a stray power line. Newman’s verticals and orthogonals function like unreliable narrators: they fool the eye and throw basic spatial frameworks into question. In her work, closeness looks far away, flat planes might be cut-outs, transparent windows open out to nothingness, clouds act as people, wisps of breeze arise from nowhere, and whole pictures are tilted off-kilter by triangular shims lurking in eccentric corners. Technically speaking, the parallax view is the apparent displacement or difference in the position of an object when it is viewed along the two different lines of sight. Newman pictures the world as a correspondingly parallax place. Newman never settles for a monocular kind of vision or a singular kind of meaning. If you scan your eye down any of her sightlines, you will find recurrent jump cuts and double entendres all along the way.

more from Amy Sillman at artcritical here.

“Delusions of Gender”: The bad science of brain sexism

From Salon:

Md_horiz In her new book, “Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference,” Cordelia Fine, a research associate and the author of “A Mind of Its Own” (also about brain science), discovers that, far from supporting the existence of vastly different male and female brains, much of the research on the topic is not only deeply flawed, but dangerously misleading. Women aren't worse at math (as Fine proves in the book, bad neurological research is one of the reasons women are still struggling to catch up in the field), and girls' preference for girlish toys probably has more to do with social expectations than what's in their skulls. Fine's book is a remarkably researched and dense work that, even while tackling highly complex subject manner, retains a light, breezy touch.

More here.

Revealed: The right moves for men on the dance floor

From PhysOrg:

Psychologist Psychologists have identified the key male dance movements that most arouse female interest — and all are to do with central body motions which send out primal signals of health, vigour and strength. A team led by Nick Neave of Northumbria University in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, northeastern England, filmed 19 men aged 18-35 in a lab as they danced to a standard disco beat. The men, none of whom was a professional dancer, wore reflective markers that studded their body and were filmed by a battery of 12 3D cameras. The footage was used to create a dancing avatar, or animated figure, that was faceless and genderless. Thirty-seven young heterosexual women were then shown 15-second clips of the avatars and were asked to judge which dance movements were the most . Eight “movement variables” emerged which distinguished the trolls from the Travoltas. “Good” dancers did wider and bigger movements of the head, neck and torso, and did faster bending and twisting movements of their right knee (greater movements of the right knee rather than the left were to be expected, as 80 percent of the dancers favoured their right leg). In contrast, “bad” dancers tended to be stiff and plod — and throwing their arms around was no substitute for fast, variable movement of the central body region.

“Men all over the world will be interested to know what moves they can throw to attract women,” said Neave. “We now know which area of the body females are looking at when they are making a judgement about male dance attractiveness. If a man knows what the key moves are, he can get some training and improve his chances of attracting a female through his dance style.”

More here.

Wednesday Poem


As I grow older, I feel younger
more eager, more full of love.
More alive the closer I move to death.
More whole the closer I move into blight.
The sweeter life grows as fervent
clamors of youth pass.
Passions of old age take deeper
flavor, ripened, more nuanced.
More easily words and affections
flow when the self-conscious gaucherie
of youth has passed.

Wholeness suddenly is mine;
ragged edges of fear hemmed.

Mirrors say Look. Do not
be afraid. You are what you are.

by Betty Lockwood
from A Matriach's Song
Peter Randall Publisher, 2001

The Crimewave that Shames the World

5030390_447743tRobert Fisk in The Independent:

It is a tragedy, a horror, a crime against humanity. The details of the murders – of the women beheaded, burned to death, stoned to death, stabbed, electrocuted, strangled and buried alive for the “honour” of their families – are as barbaric as they are shameful. Many women's groups in the Middle East and South-west Asia suspect the victims are at least four times the United Nations' latest world figure of around 5,000 deaths a year. Most of the victims are young, many are teenagers, slaughtered under a vile tradition that goes back hundreds of years but which now spans half the globe.

A 10-month investigation by The Independent in Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank has unearthed terrifying details of murder most foul. Men are also killed for “honour” and, despite its identification by journalists as a largely Muslim practice, Christian and Hindu communities have stooped to the same crimes. Indeed, the “honour” (or ird) of families, communities and tribes transcends religion and human mercy. But voluntary women's groups, human rights organisations, Amnesty International and news archives suggest that the slaughter of the innocent for “dishonouring” their families is increasing by the year.

Iraqi Kurds, Palestinians in Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey appear to be the worst offenders but media freedoms in these countries may over-compensate for the secrecy which surrounds “honour” killings in Egypt – which untruthfully claims there are none – and other Middle East nations in the Gulf and the Levant. But honour crimes long ago spread to Britain, Belgium, Russia and Canada and many other nations. Security authorities and courts across much of the Middle East have connived in reducing or abrogating prison sentences for the family murder of women, often classifying them as suicides to prevent prosecutions.

It is difficult to remain unemotional at the vast and detailed catalogue of these crimes. How should one react to a man – this has happened in both Jordan and Egypt – who rapes his own daughter and then, when she becomes pregnant, kills her to save the “honour” of his family? Or the Turkish father and grandfather of a 16-year-old girl, Medine Mehmi, in the province of Adiyaman, who was buried alive beneath a chicken coop in February for “befriending boys”? Her body was found 40 days later, in a sitting position and with her hands tied.

The Slump Goes On: Why?

Bernanke_ben-071609_jpg_230x778_q85 Robin Wells and Paul Krugman in the NYRB:

If the fundamental problem lay with a crisis of confidence in the banking system, why hasn’t a restoration of banking confidence brought a return to strong economic growth? The likely answer is that banks were only part of the problem. It’s curious that only one of the three books surveyed here so much as mentions the work of the late Hyman Minsky, a heterodox, long-neglected economist whose moment has come—in more ways than one. However, Roubini and Mihm give a good overview of Minsky’s views—and Richard Koo, whether he knows it or not, is very much a Minskyite.

Minsky’s theory, in brief, was that eras of financial stability set the stage for future crisis, because they encourage a wide variety of economic actors to take on ever-larger quantities of debt and engage in ever-more-risky speculation. As long as asset prices keep rising, driven by debt-fueled purchases, all looks well. But sooner or later the music stops: there is a “Minsky moment” when all the players realize (or are forced by creditors to realize) that asset prices won’t rise forever, and that borrowers have taken on too much debt.

But isn’t this new prudence a good thing? No. When one individual tries to pay down debt, that’s all well and good—but when everyone tries to do it at the same time, the consequences can all too easily be destructive for everyone involved. The process of destruction is easiest to see in the financial sector, where everyone’s attempt to pay off debt by selling assets all at the same time can lead to a vicious circle of plunging prices and rising distress. But the problem isn’t necessarily restricted to finance.

‘The Grand Design,’ by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow

From The Washington Post:

Stephen-Hawking-006 In “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams famously had his characters ask a computer to provide the ultimate answer to “Life, the Universe, and Everything.” As Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow point out in their book “The Grand Design,” the computer's response — 42 — was less than helpful. Hawking, who needs no introduction, and Mlodinow, a Caltech physicist with a string of excellent books to his credit, have taken on that ultimate question in a somewhat more rigorous form by asking three related ones:

Why is there something instead of nothing?

Why do we exist?

Why does this particular set of laws govern our universe and not some other set?

More here.

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits

From The New York Times:

Study Every September, millions of parents try a kind of psychological witchcraft, to transform their summer-glazed campers into fall students, their video-bugs into bookworms. Advice is cheap and all too familiar: Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a homework schedule. Set goals. Set boundaries. Do not bribe (except in emergencies). And check out the classroom. Does Junior’s learning style match the new teacher’s approach? Or the school’s philosophy? Maybe the child isn’t “a good fit” for the school.

Such theories have developed in part because of sketchy education research that doesn’t offer clear guidance. Student traits and teaching styles surely interact; so do personalities and at-home rules. The trouble is, no one can predict how. Yet there are effective approaches to learning, at least for those who are motivated. In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying. The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.

More here.

the medium and the tedium


AS AN ARTIST, I HAVE NEVER had an allegiance to any specific medium. In the 1960s, so-called medium-specific art prescribed the limits of what was permissible to express. This was the “repressive face of modernism.” My desire was to find a way to expand the range of philosophical, psychological, political, and visual ideas that my work could engage. New ideas evolved into new mediums. But these new mediums did not arise as mere acts of will. First, they were always contextual, based in actual situations and immediate needs. Second, they were oppositional, intended as an attack on the dominant aesthetic and critical hierarchy. For me, the medium was never transparent, never something to be seen through, never a neutral delivery system. No matter how reduced the means, they always remained something material, something to be taken apart and put back together, something to be confronted.

more from Mel Bochner at Triple Canopy here.

common as air


The absurdity of the copyright extension increases the deeper we look into time. Holinshed died only thirty-six years before Shakespeare died, and the distance between the publication of his account of the Scottish regicide and the initial production of Macbeth was less than two decades. Holinshed’s estate could have stopped Will cold, exacting a price and a shared credit that very likely would have inclined him to turn his attention elsewhere. Surely, at this late date, Stephen Sondheim ought to have the same right to compose a musical about Gatsby, which is now more than a third as old as the Constitution that engendered limited copyright protection. Hyde devotes a passage to the familiar horrors unleashed by James Joyce’s malevolent seventy-eight-year-old grandson, Stephen James Joyce, who having no talent of his own has devoted his life and fortune to minimizing his grandfather’s place in the commons. When Ulysses is finally liberated, a great cheer will go up, and in no time at all we will have a more definitive text and competing annotated editions. The only annotated Ulysses at present is the Oxford World’s Classics paperback, which uses the now unprotected 1922 Sylvia Beach edition, and even that can’t be sold legally in the United States. (See previous reference to Amazon UK.) What kind of commons have we fortressed when a novelist could be sued several times over for writing a story in which Jake Barnes, Millicent Bloom, and Mickey Mouse indulge in a three-way at 7 Eccles Street, entangled on a bedsheet reproduction of Matisse’s Le Bonheur de vivre (photo provided), while George and Ira Gershwin’s greatest hits (lyrics provided) play on the radio.

more from Gary Giddins at Bookforum here.

city shrinking


Since cities first got big enough to require urban planning, its practitioners have focused on growth. From imperial Rome to 19th-century Paris and Chicago and up through modern-day Beijing, the duty of city planners and administrators has been to impose order as people flowed in, buildings rose up, and the city limits extended outward into the hinterlands. But cities don’t always grow. Sometimes they shrink, and sometimes they shrink drastically. Over the last 50 years, the city of Detroit has lost more than half its population. So has Cleveland. They’re not alone: Eight of the 10 largest cities in the United States in 1950, including Boston, have since lost at least 20 percent of their population. But while Boston has recouped some of that loss in recent years and made itself into the anchor of a thriving white-collar economy, the far more drastic losses of cities like Detroit or Youngstown, Ohio, or Flint, Mich. — losses of people, jobs, money, and social ties — show no signs of turning around. The housing crisis has only accelerated the process.

more from Drake Bennett at the Boston Globe here.

Understanding disenchantment

Akeel Bilgrami in The Immanent Frame:

ScreenHunter_01 Sep. 07 07.44 Jane Bennett’s sympathetic yet critical commentary on my essay ‘What is Enchantment?’ (published in the volume Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age) describes the notion of disenchantment that I present as primarily addressing the theological displacements that emerged with the rise of the new science. Her own work, she says, offers a quite different focus, one of a mood or affect that ‘circulates between human bodies and the animal, vegetable, and mineral forces they encounter.’

I don’t doubt that this interesting focus is quite different from mine, though I think it would be wrong to represent my view as being focused on the theological. In my analysis, the theological had only a central genealogical role to play in the process of ‘disenchantment’. But, I had argued that the fallout of the theology—once the theological transformations were exploited in alliances forged between established religious interests, commercial interests, and the mandarin interests of organized scientific bodies (such as the Royal Society)—was impressively diverse, ranging from transformations in political economy to political governance and, further yet, to the mentalities of human culture in its relation to the natural world. So the focus, if any, on the theological was intended wholly to emphasize that, unlike purely materialist accounts, I was following more refined Marxists like Christopher Hill, who had written of the importance of the conflict of religious ideas in shaping the period of history in which I had invested my genealogical efforts.

More here.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

by David Stark

Stark0 Lights dimmed, spotlights, stroboscopic effects, and loud rock music. The camera on a large boom arm swings toward the audience who can now see themselves, clapping and cheering, displayed on one of the enormous screens above the stage. The warmup act is over and the headline performer bounds onto the set amidst frenzied applause. We are at, one of several megachurches that I have been studying in Oklahoma City.

In 1904, German sociologist Max Weber traveled to Oklahoma where he conducted field research, leading to an article, “Church and Sect in North America,” and his most influential book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. A century later, the megachurches of Oklahoma City seemed an appropriate setting to witness recent developments in the relationship between religious experience and contemporary capitalism.

Evangelical, non-denominational “megachurches” (defined as congregations with more than 2,000 members) are the fastest growing segment of religious affiliation in the United States. and are two such Oklahoma City megachurches. Indeed, these are their official names, inscribed on large signs (complete with logos resembling the Nike swoosh or startups) reaching high above gargantuan parking lots. Each began in the mid-1990s with a handful of members. VictoryChurch, for example, first worshipped in the cafeteria of a public high school. Within a decade, weekly attendance had grown to over 6,000 (at VictoryChurch) and over 13,000 on five “campuses” (LifeChurch). They achieved such growth through an innovative recombination of the cultures of church and commerce.

The architecture of these churches is the first signal of such recombination. There are no steeples, in fact, from the street one sees no crosses or other religious symbols. After outgrowing the high school cafeteria, VictoryChurch leased space in a declining shopping center, one of the familiar “strip malls” that line the thoroughfares of most American cities. From these still modest operations (the suburban equivalent of an urban “storefront” mission church), it quickly expanded to acquire the entire retail property (80,000 square feet) just two blocks from old Route 66. From the parking lot, one sees the signage of its various facilities: a bookstore (at which one can purchase CDs, DVDs, and other materials produced by the church’s audio-visual department), a coffee shop (serving Starbuck’s registered coffee), an arts and crafts studio, and its own religiously themed “Toys ‘R Us” (with a logo that must come just short of trademark infringement). Unlike some of the other, even larger, Oklahoma City megachurch campuses, VictoryChurch does not have a gym or fitness center.

Read more »

Labor Day: Put America Back to Work

by Michael Blim

Images The Democrats are running scared and triaging their Congressional majorities for salvageable seats, according to the Sunday New York Times lead story. The President may be confined to quarters, but they are going to impress Michele Obama, last seen by photo yesterday with two really nice heads of fennel fresh from the White House garden, into campaign work.

Let’s hope that the Democrats don’t send her out to talk about victory gardens. Combined with her husband’s “be patient” counsel after the bad unemployment news last week, I’d almost feel obliged to start building a Hooverville by the Washington Monument, or at least toss around a medicine ball by the White House in remembrance of one of America’s greatest humanitarians and technocrats who saved Europe from starving after the First World War, but couldn’t bring himself to save his own people from the ravages of the Great Depression.

The present occupant of the White House is no Hoover, I guess, though I do reserve the right to second-guess myself another time. After all, the President has avoided telling us that prosperity is just around the corner, which nobody believed in 1932 and no one believes now. Yet his approach to our grave economic situation seems almost as passive and bloodless as was Hoover’s.

Patience is no answer to the problem of 25 million unemployed. There is nothing on the horizon from factories to banks, workplaces and federal programs that has the remotest chance of putting 25 million Americans back to work within the next five years. The unemployed are suffering terrible damage with the promise of more. Whole chunks of people’s lives are being written off for which there is no recompense, no recovery. Some years back a sociologist compared the annual wages of people from identical backgrounds and work histories. The only difference among them is that one group had spent a year in the Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. Decades later, the one year gap in their job records had left the Vietnam veterans earning less than those who were identical to them, save for the fact that they did not spend a year of their lives fighting the Vietnam War.

Imagine the impact of this recession as it rips through people’s work lives, makes short work of people’s careers, prevents other people from starting, and diminishes their livelihoods. Imagine their lives as a series of little Vietnams. Where does patience fit in, exactly?

This Administration is running backwards. Its response grows more pallid and miniscule by the day.

Perhaps like Hoover, there are just some things it cannot bring itself to do.

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